Kila are still thinking with their feet

Rossa Ó Snodaigh, centre, and his fellow Kila members are currently on tour.

GLAMOUR is in short supply when you’ve been in a band for 25 years, says Kila’s Rossa Ó Snodaigh. 

The trad eight-piece have returned from a tour of Denmark and Germany, and then did a series of children’s daytime concerts in Ireland. They love what they do and would never be so ungrateful as to describe it as a slog — nonetheless, it’s hard work.

“It’s your livelihood,” says Ó Snodaigh. “There are no victory laps here. We sailed to Germany, went to Denmark, came back to Ireland for the kids’ gigs. It’s always been that way.”

On their wanderings, Kila have championed Irish music. Since the 1960s, there has been a campaign to make folk more ‘respectable’. Ironically, because of this people have lost sight of what was vital about the genre in the first place. Kila believe ‘trad’ is for dancing, rather than to be dryly appreciated at one remove. It is for the feet, as much as for the intellect.

“Irish music wasn’t always something you sat down and listened to,” says Ó Snodaigh.”The céilí bands understood you needed a lot of amplification and you wanted it to be tight. People had to be able to hear you. Whereas, Séan Ó Riada was seeing the beauty in traditional music — he wanted to dress it up in a way that brings the drama out in the melody. That influenced the next generation of musicians, all the way down to us.”

Ó Snodaigh recalls a concert by the ‘progressive’ trad ensemble, Moving Hearts, at which bouncers tried to stop the audience dancing. It did not go well. “Everyone was sitting down. However, they couldn’t help themselves. Soon, they were on their feet. It was just incredible. Security were doing their hardest. But it didn’t matter. People wanted to dance.”

Kila is truly a family affair, fronted by Rossa and his brothers, Rónán and Colm. For the past several years, the band, formed at an Irish language school in Booterstown, Dublin, has operated as an octet (“We grew during the recession — there was no austerity in our imagination”). The expansion came at a time of stock-taking, with new long player, Suas Síos, their first release since 2011.

They don’t see it as a comeback record. For one thing, they’ve toured solidly in the interim. Furthermore, because traditional music isn’t an album-based art-form, Kila can have a creatively fulfilling existence beyond the studio.

But they have never followed the rules. They were among the first ‘trad’ exponents to incorporate world music instruments and have been especially influenced by the movements of the Far East, going so far as recording an LP with Japanese folk artist, Oki.

More remarkably still, they have never drawn from the canon — their work is entirely original, its mere existence proof that trad does not have to be a dry, dusty museum piece. Indeed, it says something for Kila’s virtuosity that, far from looked upon as interlopers, they’ve been largely welcomed by the trad community, in addition to finding an audience among those who would not normally darken the door of a céilí, should their life depend on it.

That isn’t to say there hasn’t been the occasional negative reaction. Rossa recalls an early tour of Germany, at which the audience was aghast to see Kila take to the stage with bongo drums and electric guitar.

“They were more into the folk stuff — Dervish and Lúnasa,” he says. ‘We were not singing traditional songs. We were writing our own and singing in Irish. We didn’t fit any particular mould. We found France, Italy, and especially Spain, took to us much sooner. The Germans were slower coming around.”

  • Kila play Cyprus Avenue, Cork, March 20; Whelan’s, Dublin, March 21

READ NEXT: Kilfenora: More than just a great céilí band

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